Josh Freeman has himself squarely in the cross-hairs of the starting quarterback competition in Tampa Bay. Fellow first-rounder Larry English is being counted on to supply a pass rush in San Diego. Ravens second-rounder Paul Kruger has turned Terrell Suggs' absence from voluntary workouts to his favor.
With minicamps and offseason workouts coming to a close this week, players in the rookie class of 2009 have given glimpses, if not wider views, of their potential impact. Coaches and personnel officials have been able to project, to some degree, what they might be able to generate from their rookies in the short and long terms.
Here's a look-in at some rookies who left impressions on their new teams during offseason workouts:
Raiders WRs Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy
Coach Tom Cable believes Heyward-Bey, Oakland's criticized seventh-overall pick, will be just as effective running intermediate and short routes as he will be using his speed on straight-line go patterns. And Cable also believes Heyward-Bey could have some company at wide receiver with fellow rookie Murphy, a fourth-round pick from Florida.
"He's probably the surprise of our (rookie) class," Cable said of Murphy. "He has all the makings to be a very special football player at this level -- mainly because he was impressive on a daily basis. We really think we found one."
That's great news for the Raiders, who have really struggled on offense in recent years, particularly in the passing game. They've finished among the bottom two in passing offense, including last in 2008, the past three seasons. Having two young wideouts and a stable of running backs to grow with quarterback JaMarcus Russell, might actually give the perpetually rebuilding Raiders some optimism for the long-term. Oakland just has to hope the receivers have the mental makeup to match their physical skills.
Chiefs DE Tyson Jackson
Kansas City coach Todd Haley said earlier this summer that Jackson's adjustment to playing as a 3-4 defensive end could be a lot easier than people think, because the third overall pick is mature enough to withstand expectations and distractions. The physical part will take care of itself and he should evolve into the keystone player the Chiefs need to rebuild their porous defense.
"He's going to be under more scrutiny than most of the other guys all the time," Haley said. "That's just something he's going to have to deal with and that's something you have to take into consideration when you pick somebody with a high pick. Mentally, he has adjusted."
Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman
Freeman was viewed by some as the most gifted of the trio of first-round quarterbacks that included top overall pick Matthew Stafford (Detroit) and No. 5 selection Mark Sanchez (New York Jets). However, he was seen as the biggest project of the three and was expected to spend his rookie season, if not longer, developing behind Byron Leftwich or Luke McCown.
His offseason workouts might have changed some of those projections. Although Leftwich and McCown may be ahead of him on the depth chart, Freeman has thrust himself into the thick of the competition to be the starter and how each performs in preseason will chart the course for Freeman's future.
"Josh did a good job understanding his role," Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik said. "He showed good leadership and he understands our playbook. We are excited about his progress. He's come in and represented himself well and showed why he was taken in the first round."
|David Kohl / Associated Press|
|Michael Johnson's performance in shorts and jersey has the Bengals anxious to see what he can do in pads.|
Bengals DE Michael Johnson
Johnson, a third-round pick, has mouths watering for what he did in shorts and a jersey this offseason. His athleticism and versatility have Bengals coaches talking about using him as a pass-rush specialist in a variety of positions -- if he can consistently perform in pads the way he has without them. But that has always been the knock on Johnson, considered a workout warrior who lacks consistency on the field.
Chargers LB Larry English
The Chargers loved what they saw from English, their first-round pick who averaged double-digit sacks over his final three seasons at Northern Illinois. He'll be asked this season to back up both Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips, serving as a pass-rush specialist.
"Larry shows outstanding pass-rush ability," coach Norv Turner said. "He's a guy that I think will be able to make plays early. ... I've been very impressed with what I've seen from him."
Redskins LB Brian Orakpo
Like English, Orakpo is making the transition from collegiate defensive end to outside linebacker. The 13th overall pick has shown well enough in offseason workouts that he will enter training camp as the Redskins' starter on the strong side.
"Brian showed that he has great pass-rushing ability," said Vinny Cerrato, Redskins executive VP of football operations. "He did a nice job learning a new position."
Ravens DE Paul Kruger
Baltimore's second-round selection is expected to eventually replace veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce. He will rotate some with Pryce this season, but Kruger will spend more time at outside linebacker. Coaches think that, in time, he can add weight to his 265-pound frame, but for now, they love his energy and that he picked up the defense while spending most of the offseason working with the starters.
Falcons safety William Moore
The Falcons went into the draft in search of a more versatile and younger version of veteran Lawyer Milloy, who was not re-signed when his contract expired. They took Moore in the second round and watched the Missouri product spend the summer showcasing more than they expected. Now, they want even more from Moore, who will battle Thomas DeCoud for the starting strong safety spot.
"He has a skill set that we're looking for, in terms of a safety; not a strong safety or free safety," coach Mike Smith said. "The biggest thing we ask our safeties to do is to be communicative on the back end, and he's picking that up very well."
Bengals RB Bernard Scott
The Bengals took a chance on the 25-year-old Abilene Christian running back in the sixth round, despite some off-field baggage that includes being kicked off two teams (one in high school, one in college) and several run-ins with police.
At 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, he is similar in stature, speed and running style to Tennessee's Chris Johnson -- except he is not viewed as an every-down back. However, if he shows an ability to return kicks and can produce in third-down situations during the preseason, he could have an immediate impact as a rookie, and serve as the Bengals' primary change-of-pace back to Cedric Benson.
"Bernard is a late pick, but he physically is looking very much like an NFL back," coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's very fast and has great ability as an open-field runner and for in-line cutting. He's also catching the ball well."
Panthers RB Mike Goodson
Carolina's fourth-round pick seemingly landed in a less-than-ideal place with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart entrenched as the tailback tandem. However, with Stewart nursing a problematic Achilles' tendon and by having a completely different running style than Williams and Stewart, he has a shot at making a contribution as the No. 3 tailback. His best bet is as a returner, but the coaching staff has taken note of what he can add from the backfield.